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Wry details and witty, dead-on dialogue charged with biblical echoes give Watt (Haley, Texas 1959, 1999, etc.) real class.

East Texas novel built on the Cain-and-Abel story.

Ray Reynolds lost his bank job and just missed jail when a grand jury found that his best buddy’s loans and real-estate appraisals were shot full of more holes than a SLOW sign on a country road. His wife Sheila dumped him, picked up their twins, Larry and Garry, and set off for her well-to-do daddy’s ranch in West Texas, while Reynolds took what cash was left and bought a liquor store in East Texas. Now, life drifts by on Clear Creek Lake and, in his mid-40s, Reynolds gets half past mellow on bourbon and dances alone after closing hour. His latest live-in woman is Joy, a waitress at the Next to Nowhere Cafe, half his age and hot to leave his trailer out back of the store—and his bottomless supply of booze. Reynolds’s far-right brother Perry, an ex-Marine, former football star, and flake, teaches history at Cottonwood High School and has been warned to desist from feeding his students his kooky antigovernment line. Perry is deep into the sale of black-market automatic weapons to nuts who are preparing for the inevitable overthrow of the US government, and he sells the guns by dark of night right off Reynolds’s boat ramp. In their family, Perry is the beloved son, Reynolds the outcast, while their dad, Ray Senior, a retired Ford pickup dealer (his yellow-gray hair is “the color of foam that floats to the top when you boil a chicken”), leaves their daft mother Edwina to thump her Bible while he tries to invent a perpetual motion machine. Edwina’s death from exposure after she snaps her hip (Reynolds is too drunk to hear her cries) draws the brothers into a showdown at Perry’s safehouse of ammo and weapons.

Wry details and witty, dead-on dialogue charged with biblical echoes give Watt (Haley, Texas 1959, 1999, etc.) real class.

Pub Date: April 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-87565-265-5

Page Count: 200

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2002

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The story's very ambiguity steadily feeds its mysteriousness and power, and Danielewski's mastery of postmodernist and...

An amazingly intricate and ambitious first novel - ten years in the making - that puts an engrossing new spin on the traditional haunted-house tale.

Texts within texts, preceded by intriguing introductory material and followed by 150 pages of appendices and related "documents" and photographs, tell the story of a mysterious old house in a Virginia suburb inhabited by esteemed photographer-filmmaker Will Navidson, his companion Karen Green (an ex-fashion model), and their young children Daisy and Chad.  The record of their experiences therein is preserved in Will's film The Davidson Record - which is the subject of an unpublished manuscript left behind by a (possibly insane) old man, Frank Zampano - which falls into the possession of Johnny Truant, a drifter who has survived an abusive childhood and the perverse possessiveness of his mad mother (who is institutionalized).  As Johnny reads Zampano's manuscript, he adds his own (autobiographical) annotations to the scholarly ones that already adorn and clutter the text (a trick perhaps influenced by David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest) - and begins experiencing panic attacks and episodes of disorientation that echo with ominous precision the content of Davidson's film (their house's interior proves, "impossibly," to be larger than its exterior; previously unnoticed doors and corridors extend inward inexplicably, and swallow up or traumatize all who dare to "explore" their recesses).  Danielewski skillfully manipulates the reader's expectations and fears, employing ingeniously skewed typography, and throwing out hints that the house's apparent malevolence may be related to the history of the Jamestown colony, or to Davidson's Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph of a dying Vietnamese child stalked by a waiting vulture.  Or, as "some critics [have suggested,] the house's mutations reflect the psychology of anyone who enters it."

The story's very ambiguity steadily feeds its mysteriousness and power, and Danielewski's mastery of postmodernist and cinema-derived rhetoric up the ante continuously, and stunningly.  One of the most impressive excursions into the supernatural in many a year.

Pub Date: March 6, 2000

ISBN: 0-375-70376-4

Page Count: 704

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2000

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Steinbeck is a genius and an original.

Steinbeck refuses to allow himself to be pigeonholed.

This is as completely different from Tortilla Flat and In Dubious Battle as they are from each other. Only in his complete understanding of the proletarian mentality does he sustain a connecting link though this is assuredly not a "proletarian novel." It is oddly absorbing this picture of the strange friendship between the strong man and the giant with the mind of a not-quite-bright child. Driven from job to job by the failure of the giant child to fit into the social pattern, they finally find in a ranch what they feel their chance to achieve a homely dream they have built. But once again, society defeats them. There's a simplicity, a directness, a poignancy in the story that gives it a singular power, difficult to define.  Steinbeck is a genius and an original.

Pub Date: Feb. 26, 1936

ISBN: 0140177396

Page Count: 83

Publisher: Covici, Friede

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1936

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